Using healthier ingredients can be a lot more complicated than using the traditional butter-white flour-white sugar combination which is sort of foolproof. I have destroyed millions of recipes whilst experimenting with healthier ingredients and that is why you need to be more flexible, more creative and more tolerant when using them in cooking and baking. It might take time and it might take patience but it is worth it in the end. I speak from a place of experience because I opened up my website in 2003 but in 2000 I was eating pasta uncooked as I didn't know how to boil it. If I can do it, so can you.

Below is a collection of terms and products that you might find unfamiliar and how I use them in my cooking. Click on a term and the answer will automatically expand below.

Food Items/Products

Acacia Honey

Acacia honey is my favourite type of honey particularly for its "clear" taste and the fact that it stays in a liquid state for a long period of time due to its high concentration of fructose. Honey is regarded as a good remedy for fighting flues as it has an impressive levels of disease-fighting antioxidants. It can also sooth sore throats and is often good for stomach aches. Honey should not be given to infants under 12 months of age.

How to use: Wherever I use agave nectar it should be ok to use acacia honey instead (1 cup agave nectar for 1 cup acacia honey). Keep in mind though that for ice creams it is better to use maple syrup or agave nectar since honey freezes at a lower temperature than ordinary sugar, affecting the texture slightly. Note that honey is not a vegan product.

Agave Nectar (Agave Syrup):

Agave nectar is produced from the Blue Agave plant which grows in the volcanic soils of Southern Mexico. The plant resembles Aloe Vera or a large cactus in appearance. It has been used for thousands of years and even the Aztecs prized the agave as a gift from the gods, using the liquid in both food and drinks. Agave is a low glycemic product and should never have additives or other sweeteners added, it should be 100% pure and of course organic. Agave nectar is mainly sold in three varieties; light, amber and dark (and raw). I mostly use the raw type or very light although the darker varieties go well in desserts which require maple syrup. Most raw versions are not heated above 47 degrees Celsius/118 Fahrenheit. This means that if you are a raw foodist, you can enjoy agave nectar in your diet. I use agave nectar straight out of the bottle as a sweetener on pancakes and waffles and any dessert that would require maple syrup or honey.

How to use: In recipes, use about 3/4 cup of agave nectar for every 1 cup of sugar. This works for most recipes although if you have a sweet tooth, you might have to add more agave nectar. When using agave nectar, reduce the liquid slightly in your recipe (often by as much as 25-33%. Whenever I use agave nectar in my recipes I have already adjusted the liquid required. Agave nectar is available in most health food stores (and sometimes can be found in larger supermarkets).

Aluminium and Gluten Free Baking Powder

Personally I don't like the flavour of aluminium in my baking and don't consider it to be healthy to eat much of it. Some say that metals accumulate in our bodies and can lead to problems in the central nervous system and internal organs such as creating kidney problems and having a negative effect on the digestive system. Studies have tied toxins from aluminium to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It might therefore be a good idea to stay away from it, just to be on the safe side. If you find that your baked goods have a slight "tinny" taste, the aluminium in the normal baking powder might be the culprit. I also use gluten free baking powder even though I am not gluten intolerant.
How to use:
You can use any baking powder you prefer if you don't have issues with these aforementioned factors. You can buy aluminium free and gluten free baking powder in most health food stores. You can also make your own baking powder (1 teaspoon): Mix together ½ teaspoon cream of tartar, ¼ teaspoon aluminium free baking soda and ¼ teaspoon cornstarch (or tapioca).


Arrowroot is a gluten free and vegan thickening agent used for puddings, jellies, cakes, hot sauces and even in ice creams (to prevent ice crystals from forming). This white powder, extracted from the root of a West Indian plant looks and feels like cornstarch or baking powder. Arrowroot thickens at a lower temperatures than flour or cornstarch.

How to use: I recommend mixing arrowroot with cold water before using it with hot fluids. Do not overheat (remove from heat source as soon as the mixture thickens). Arrowroot does not mix particularly well with dairy. When purchasing make sure that you are buying pure arrowroot as some manufacturers mix it with various flours and starches. Substitute one heaped tablespoon arrowroot for one level tablespoon cornstarch. Arrowroot is available in most health food stores.

Brown Rice Syrup

Brown Rice Syrup has become popular as a natural sweetener. It is a good alternative for sugar for those who have difficulties maintaining a steady blood sugar level. It constitutes mainly of complex carbohydrates, maltose and a low level of glucose (3%). It therefore provides a slow release of energy which is excellent for hikers and long distance runners. Rice syrup has a slightly malted flavour, a fuller flavour than honey and is even thicker than runny honey.

How to use: Note: Sometimes Brown Rice Syrup is made with Barley malt so be careful to check the ingredients if you are gluten intolerant. I use Brown Rice Syrup in some recipes that require a sticky texture or for something that benefits of the binding abilities of the rice syrup such as energy bars. You can use agave nectar, barley malt syrup (if not allergic to gluten), honey or maple syrup instead. You can also use brown rice syrup in teas, as caramel-like sauce on cakes and it goes particularly well with pecan nuts. Brown rice syrup is available in most health food stores and sometimes in larger supermarkets.


Carob is not widely least not in Northern Europe. It was used in Greece since 4BC and was then called the Egyptian fig. Carob was used for various purposes such as an adhesive in binding mummies and the Romans ate the pods for their sweetness. The pods are also often used as cattle feed.

Carob is often considered a healthy alternative to chocolate and cocoa. Carob is free from stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine found in cocoa. These chemicals can make chocolate addictive and is often unsuitable for nursing mothers, babies and those that suffer from heart related problems. Since it does not contain theobromine it is also considered a safe dog treat (a chemical which can be toxic for dogs). Carob contains vitamins A, B, B2, B3 and D. It is fairly rich in protein (8%) and also includes potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, nickel and more. It does not include any oxalate acid (which blocks the body using calcium and zinc, both vital for a healthy skin). Carob has three times as much calcium than cocoa! It is also often preferred by those that suffer from migraines as chocolate (as a stimulant) does sometimes trigger attacks. Carob is also a lot lower in fat than cocoa powder (one tablespoon of carob powder has 25 calories, no fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and only 6 grams carbohydrate). It is therefore often used by people trying to loose weight but want a sweet treat.

Carob powder is usually raw (not heated above 47 degrees Celsius/118 Fahrenheit) and is therefore favoured by many raw foodists.

Taste wise it is a bit difficult to describe carob. It is slightly sweeter than cocoa powder but has a distinctive earthy and caramel taste and is not as complex in flavour as cocoa powder (that is my opinion). Those that love chocolate are usually not very fond of carob but if you start using it, you will start to like it. Just don't invite chocolate lovers to a "chocolate free cake" and hope they will like it...they probably won't in the first instance.

Carobella is a brand which makes carob bars (similar to chocolate), you can use any brand you like, just ensure the products are organic.

How to use: You can replace cocoa powder with carob (spoon for spoon) and chocolate bars with carob bars (gram for gram). Be careful not to overheat if melting carob bars over hot water. You can make excellent desserts such as cakes, cookies, ice creams, smoothies, "chocolate sauces" and more using carob, just start slowly introducing carob into your diet and I am sure you will learn to love it. Carob is available in most health food stores (and sometimes can be found in larger supermarkets).

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk should not be confused with coconut water (the clear liquid from a young coconut). Coconut milk is the sweet, rich milk of a mature coconut and has a fat content of 15-17%. Although quite high in saturated fat it is healthier than butter for example since the fat is easily metabolised by the body. Coconut milk is anti-viral,  anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbal. It also contains lauric acid which is found in mother's milk.
How to use: Use coconut milk as a dairy free thickener in soups and sauces, in ice creams, in dips and sauces, in smoothies and more. You can freeze leftover coconut milk and use later. You can make your own coconut milk by placing grated coconut in a food processor and blending it with hot water or milk. A good quality coconut milk will in general have a layer of thicker cream on top and thinner, almost clear milk on the bottom. Just shake the can before use. You must refrigerate if not using immediately as it will spoil. Available in health food stores and most supermarkets in cans and bottles. Ensure you buy only pure, organic coconut milk with no additives.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has been used for centuries and has a significant role to play in a well balanced, nutritious diet. Coconut oil has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and can be used on your skin, your hair and for cooking. When travelling through Africa I have often come across women using coconut oil for their beauty treatments (as well as cocoa butter). Considering that the skin is our largest organ, this is a huge deal. I am a great fan of "use both externally and internally" because it means that not only is the product good for your outer health, but for your inner health as well. Coconut oil has received bad publicity due to its high saturated fat content. We have been educated to believe that saturated fats (found in red meat, dairy products and more) are bad for us and in essence they are. However research has shown that not all saturated fats are alike and coconut oil is very unique in its structure. It includes the highest source of saturated medium chain triglycerides (62%) of any natural vegan food source. These are important for our metabolism so consuming coconut oil can actually help burn fat! Around half of medium chain triglycerides are made up of lauric acid which is the most important essential fatty acid for our body's immune system. They are also more easily digested than fats from other oil sources as they are processed directly in the liver and converted immideately into energy. This means that there is less strain on the liver, pancreas and the digestive system. The only other source of lauric acid in such high concentrations is in mother's milk! Any other vegetable oils is deficient of these medium chain fatty acids. It is important not to use hydrogenated coconut oil (loaded with transfats) and to use only cold pressed oils. Also there is no such thing as extra virgin coconut oil (there is no standard recognised for this).

How to use: I use coconut oil instead of butter in my recipes (especially those that require any heating as the coconut oil can tolerate higher heat than many other types of oils). If the coconut oil is cold (in which case it becomes solid), place the jar in a bowl filled with hot water for a couple of minutes. Depending on the type of recipe, I use olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil and other oils for salads, on top of bruschettas, in smoothies and more. Coconut oil is available in most health food stores (and sometimes can be found in larger supermarkets).       

Coconut Water (from a young coconut)

Coconut water from a young coconut is a clear liquid which is found inside the coconut. It is not the same as coconut milk or coconut cream. The young coconut meat is very soft (great for making ice creams and frosting) and the juice can be enjoyed on its own or in drinks such as smoothies and more. The liquid is fat free and is sold in carton boxes (juice boxes) all over the world. I regularly by coconuts by the roadside in Kenya where it they are served with a straw after the top has been cut off. Did you know that coconut water is used as an intravenous fluid in some developing countries where mecial saline is not available? It is because coconut water is said to be identical to human blood plasma. Coconut is a natural water filter that takes almost 9 months to filter each litre of water. It is also one of the highest sources of electrolytes available, which makes it a great sports drink, a natural isotonic beverage. It is sometimes called "the fluid of life". Coconut water is more nutritious than milk and contains lauric acid, the same as is present in a mothers' milk.
How to use: If using a fresh, young coconut you can use the flesh in ice creams, smoothies and frosting. The liquid can be enjoyed on its own or in smoothies and juices. Young, fresh coconuts are hard to come by (look for them in Asian supermarkets or health food stores) but the liquid can be purchased from most health food stores and larger supermarkets. Ensure you buy only pure coconut water with no added ingredients.

Various Terms

Dolphin Friendly

Refers mainly to tuna (tinned/canned). There are many labels to indicate dolphin friendly tuna and this should be clearly indicated on the packaging. The label should assure that no dolphins were chased or netted while fishing for tuna and that the boats only fish for tuna with no dolphins present, and dolphins that do accidentally end up in nets are released. Drift- or gill nets cannot be used and no accidental dolphin death or serious injury may result from the fishing operation. Independent observers must be allowed to monitor the fishing process. If buying fresh tuna from a fish monger ensure it is sourced ethically. Please only purchase dolphin friendly tuna.